ROME – As the dust settles after an Oct. 3-28 summit of bishops on young people, the faith and vocational discernment, many questions remain. Most are focused on the final document adopted by the bishops by an overwhelming margin last Saturday night – including who shaped it, what some of its language means, and the fact that it doesn’t contain an endorsement of a “zero tolerance” policy on sexual abuse.
Mexican Cardinal Carlos Aguiar Retes, appointed by Pope Francis to lead the Archdiocese of Mexico City at the end of last year, was on the 12-member drafting committee responsible for producing the 60-page document.
Speaking with Crux on Monday, Aguiar Retes said that even though he agrees with the policy of “zero tolerance” when it comes to priests or church personnel who abuse minors, the document, addressed to young adults, touches on many forms of abuse, including “authoritarianism, abuse of power, imposition, lack of empathy,” and others, for which the Church “doesn’t have a zero tolerance attitude.”
Aguiar Reyes says the phrase “zero tolerance” was also eliminated from this text because Francis has called a meeting for the presidents of bishops’ conferences around the world Feb. 21-24, and it will be up to that meeting to address it.
Aguiar Retes spoke with Crux on Monday, two days after the synod’s final document was voted on. What follows are excerpts of that conversation, which took place in Italian.
Crux: Seeing that we’ve reached the end of the synod, could we ask you for a balance of the experience?
Aguiar Retes: For me, I’ve said this before, and I’ve heard this from many bishops and cardinals, particularly from those who’ve participated in a synod before, for me this was the fifth, everyone says the same: this was the best synod among those we’ve participated in.
I would say two fundamental elements as to why the synod went as well and produced a document where all the points were approved with more than 2/3 of the votes, something that doesn’t always happen. This time, all of them were, and most of them almost unanimously.
What are these two points? First, the methodology has changed. They created a scheme that has made us walk a synodal path. First, we were in a position of listening, also reflecting. The pope was magnificent when he said that after five speeches [by synod fathers and other participants], we must have three minutes of silence. This, everyone says, was magnificent, because one can pay attention to what was said and make notes, “this I agree with, this seems important or is asking something of me, this I don’t agree with.” When it was one after the other, by number ten you’re thinking about anything but what is being talked about. Also in terms of the method, the small working groups were organized according to the three parts of the Instrumentum Laboris [the meeting’s working document] the first part was about listening, the second on discernment, and the third about what we need to do to help the Church fulfill its mission.
For us who were on the drafting commission it was easier, because the first time we met 10 days into the synod, the second part 20 days, and the third part, a bit more rushed, in the last week. For this reason, we have a document that despite having last-minute changes on Wednesday, they were mostly small, not deep transformations.
Secondly, the theme of the synod. The theme is purely pastoral: What do we do for young people, with young people, listening to young people? For example, the synod on the family we had more doctrinal issues, that are more conflictive when it comes to finding consensus, but these pastoral things are easier to agree on: we need some restructuring of the Church to fulfill its mission. There’s also the fact it was better prepared with young people. The pre-synod [meeting in March] was formidable. Because the Instrumentum was practically written by them, with a consultation made through online means, also through the bishops’ conferences, but it was very good to facilitate the work of the synod.
For these two reasons, the methodology and the theme, I say that this was the best of the synods I participated in.
Some survivors of clerical sexual abuse in the United States, Australia, Chile, and other parts of the world, are disappointed that in Tuesday’s draft there was a confirmation of the line of “zero tolerance,” but it was removed. Can you explain why?
It was discussed within the commission. First, we said, we’re here for young people. Who are young people? They’re not minors. [The Vatican defines “young people” as ranging from 18 to 30]. The abuses to which zero tolerance is applied are against minors. The pope has already convoked for February all the presidents of the bishops’ conferences, exclusively on this subject, and we can’t say ahead of time what they’re supposed to talk about. It’s going to be the presidents of the bishops’ conference, who, discussing only this issue, will say everything that needs to be said.
For this reason, we decided to “open” the subject of abuses, being honest with young people, to include also those that are the most painful ones for young people, such as authoritarianism, abuse of power, imposition, a lack of empathy, a Church that is closed in on itself, that doesn’t accompany and listen to them in their situations.
There are also the administrative crimes, related to money, that exist. And young people suffer this because they have no money … And they want to do so many things, but the Church always keeps them at arm’s length. These are abuses.
So we decided to include every kind of abuse…
To open up the discussion?
We also heard that there were some bishops who thought that this phrase, “zero tolerance” is a bit imprecise, that it can mean different things for different people. Was this also a part of your reflections?
Yes. Because “zero tolerance” means that we must always act. Always. Certainly, when it comes to abuses of minors, I believe this must be the case. But not with some of the other abuses. If we open the spectrum, then we must remove that which is only for this thing.
You said that the final document is a good one, that as you noted, it received strong support from the synod fathers. But do you think this is a “pastoral document,” that you can go now to Mexico City and apply?
Certainly. And I’m very happy because in Mexico City, since last May, we’ve begun doing that which is in the document.
The document says that all youth ministry must be vocational ministry. In Mexico City, we had them apart, and I said no. So, I created a team for the entire youth ministry. The document says that everyone must collaborate to go in this sense to have a youth ministry that gives the opportunity for young people to discern their vocation, whatever this vocation might be.
In November the planning will come to an end, but we’re calling all the religious orders, schools, educational institutions, parishes, apostolic movements, to make a joint project to this end.
We have 36 people who are working on this team. So I’m already on the path, I’m very happy for the fact that we’re working towards this.
We also heard some perplexity among the bishops regarding the third paragraph of the final document, that ties the document to the Instrumentum Laboris. As you know, before the synod started, the pope changed the rules, saying that at the end, this document, if he gives his approval, will have magisterial value, meaning, it becomes a part of the Church’s teaching. Is it fair to say, according to paragraph three, the same thing is valid for the Instrumentum Laboris?
No. I think, as it’s been designed as always, this was said by Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri [the synod’s secretary general], we place the document in the hands of the Holy Father and he knows if he then does an apostolic exhortation, and that one would be pontifical teaching.
But this document is not pontifical teaching, because he hasn’t yet given his approval. It could be that this is what those who voted against this paragraph thought could be the case. But I believe it was very clear from the beginning that our work, regardless of it being a document and not proposals, as it’s always been, it’s simply that, a proposal from the part of the synod fathers.
But if he does, according to graph three, the Instrumentum Laboris becomes magisterial?
No. It’s a ‘martyr document’. We’ve always seen this. The final document too is martyr. It’s in the hands of the pope.
So just to be clear, if eventually the pope decides to give his approval to the final document, this does mean that the Instrumentum also is part of his magisterium?
No, because the Instrumentum Laboris was only a working document.
Mexico today is living a complex situation with a new government about to take over later this year. Do you have some words to share about the country’s reality today?
We cannot hide this, there’s uncertainty. I believe that the speech from the president on Dec. 1st is a very positive one, and that he says some of the things he’s told us bishops, and for which he’s requested our cooperation, and the same with the entrepreneurs.
Slowly, it’s becoming evident that he wants to be more than just a person fixated with the “right,” but who wants to resolve the problems of society.
We hope so. We must pray, and we must help. This is the attitude we bishops have.
What are your thoughts about the caravan of thousands of migrants going through Mexico towards the border with the United States these days?
I’m certainly surprised by this caravan. I wonder why they’re doing it, because they don’t want to go into the United States, they just want to make a demonstration at the border. Why? I don’t know if the situation of migration from the East into Europe, all news that we receive, perhaps they want to do something similar. But it’s a bit strange because it seems that there are many who’ve already returned. Then, at the beginning they were only from Honduras, but now I’ve read they’re mostly from Guatemala. [It’s not clear] what’s inside of it.
Regarding the issue of migration, the problem of migration, I’m completely sensitive and we must help everyone, and we’re doing so. But I don’t understand the objective of this caravan… I’ve been here for a month, so I’m surprised by it and these are questions that I ask myself.